New transit hub in West Glenwood part of bigger plan to speed buses through town

Usuarios toman el autobús BRT Aspen en la estación RFTA 27th Street en el sur de Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Traffic congestion in Glenwood Springs doesn’t seem to be going anywhere fast, but new public transit infrastructure aims to help reduce traffic by giving transit more priority.

“The idea of bus rapid transit is that people are able to get on a bus, stay on a bus and go to their destination without having to necessarily get off,” City Engineer Terri Patch said. “And we hope for it to be faster than picking their car, because that is what encourages people to go on the bus.”

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and individual municipalities are all working to build more public transit infrastructure throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.

“RFTA is interested in the idea of bus rapid transit, and we’d like to look at it in the Grand Avenue corridor, as well as looking at all of their stops,” Partch said.

Two main areas that are expected to see some changes are the West Glenwood Park and Ride transportation hub, for which construction began last week with a formal groundbreaking ceremony. 

The agencies are also adding infrastructure changes to help speed transit through the city and the valley.

“It’s definitely something that we have given a lot of thought, and Glenwood Springs is a very challenging community to serve with rapid transit because of the limited corridors that they have to travel through town,“ said Dan Blankenship, CEO of RFTA. 

Two ideas that RFTA and the city are considering would be to reroute the bus onto the old Rio Grande railroad corridor through part of Glenwood, or widening lanes on Grand Avenue to create a bus lane through town. 

Either would work, but each has its problems and controversies, Blankenship acknowledged.

“We are looking at the possibility of putting a bus lane on the Rio Grande railroad corridor from about 27th Street where we’re currently working on developing a pedestrian underpass under 27th Street and across Grand Avenue to serve the trail and also the BRT station,” Blankenship said.

The city of Glenwood Springs contracted a company called Fehr and Peers to generate a cell phone/GPS data set earlier this year to analyze internal and regional travel patterns. 

The study found:

  • 55% of the traffic on Colorado Highway 82 is regional pass through traffic from Garfield and Eagle counties to Carbondale, Aspen and El Jebel
  • 44% of traffic on SH 82 south of Glenwood Springs is Glenwood Springs residents commuting to jobs south along SH 82 (Carbondale, Aspen, El Jebel)
  • 60% of inbound commuting trips to Glenwood Springs were from Rifle and New Castle
  • 20% of morning commute trips into Glenwood Springs are going to the hospital/medical complex
  • 12% of morning commute trips from western Garfield County are going to the high school, City Market and CMC area

“During the afternoon commute coming downvalley I think that’s when the greatest amount of congestion occurs.” Blankenship said.

The city aims to continue to work with RFTA to evaluate ways to increase regional transit ridership to reduce the number of vehicles commuting into and through Glenwood Springs, according to a work session presentation from city staff on Sept. 15. The city will also evaluate regional connection points to the city’s internal bus network to encourage commuting through transit.

The average time to commute via bus from Rifle to Aspen takes between two and three hours, and can require two transfers in some cases. There is, however, a bus route that goes all the way from Rifle to Aspen without transferring and takes two hours and 15 minutes.

RFTA has also made a request of CDOT to consider changing the timing of light signals in Carbondale to favor buses. 

“We can work with CDOT to install transit signal priority at key intersections,” Blankenship said. “So that when the buses are approaching within a certain distance, if the light is green, it holds it until the bus gets through.”

Or, if the bus is already at the light when it turns to red, it might turn it green a little faster, he said. Sometimes buses can be stalled 10 to 15 minutes when leaving Carbondale due to the traffic light during rush hour. 

Construction of the transportation hub in West Glenwood is using federal grant funding, adding more transit options to make it more like the Bus Rapid Transit station on 27th Street. This is planned to help with the congestion going to and from Glenwood Springs to western Garfield County, Blankenship said.

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